June Reading Roundup

Most of June was spent sunbathing in Albania, followed by swimming in Albania’s sea (the Adriatic), accompanied by work and cleaning at the hostel, and all of those lovely moments sprinkled with time to read some of those 130+ books on my Amazon Wishlist. A kind of heaven. During the last week of June, I spent a few days in Italy and finally ended the month in Germany, with my parents. So suffice it to say that June was a pretty fantastic month, and it would be nice if all of my life could be spent in the water, in books and in a sunny place like Saranda. But, alas, life. I soaked it up while I could. (PUN ALERT!)

In addition to these books, I also started a gradual swing back into poetry. I’ve dipped into Maya Angelou and back into some of the German poets, like Bertholt Brecht, which I’ve always liked. It’s been nice to get back into a little rhyme and verse.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

After reading the first book and being underwhelmed, I had higher hopes for the sequel. And while I did enjoy this book better and I could get into the story quite easily, I still feel underwhelmed overall. I’m sorry, fantasy genre, The Wheel of Time has ruined me, nothing will ever compare!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Nonfiction / Recommended

In celebration of Maya Angelou’s inspirational life, I cracked open a book I hadn’t read since high school and wasn’t disappointed in the least. Absolutely recommended to all, not just for the fantastic writing, but for the reminder of what African Americans endured for far too long in the “land of the free”.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Nonfiction / Recommended

I’ll admit that while I was reading this, I had trouble coming back to it. It didn’t pull me in. But as soon as I’d finished the book, I couldn’t shut up about it to everyone I knew. It inspired in me a lot more interest in art history and integrated extremely well into travel; it reads half like a history of inks/dies/paints and half like a travel diary through fascinating regions such as Iran and aboriginal Australia.

This month, July, I’m back in Pittsburgh (home) for some time. And I’m not gonna lie: one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to is access to my local library once again and reading a book or two the old-fashioned way. I actually went to my old bookshelf yesterday and started running my hand over some of my favorite books; I missed them that much. But let’s keep that embarrassing/nerdy fact to ourselves, shall we? Try not to tell anyone about my weird love-on-my-books moment. Unless you’re telling me that you totally do the same, sometimes. I can’t be the only one who hugs their books, right?

Right?

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Have you read any of these titles? Thoughts? I’m always on the lookout for new, good books, so send any recommendations my way.

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May Reading Roundup

On May 1st I was in Switzerland and since then, I’ve made my way through Austria, Croatia, Montenegro and now Albania where I’m settled in for another three weeks, working at a hostel on the beach. (Can you say paradise?) It’s been busy, to say the least. But the reading continued and I’m quite pleased with how much I’ve managed to finish in this past month. And of all of them, Shantaram really stood out as a book for the ages, so if you’re thinking about reading it, then do so!

This was also a strange month because I read exclusively stories, memoirs and fiction, and no informational nonfiction at all. Surprisingly, though, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much (if not more) than any of the other more “intellectual reading” months. Shantaram and The White Tiger gave me an in depth view of what India’s culture is like, The Book Thief updated my knowledge of WWII and Wild taught me a lot more about long distance hiking than I thought it would. Ask me about what you should pack for a hike and I can tell you that a fold-able saw is not necessary, but a ski pole just might come in handy!

Special thanks to Steve (who has been linked to below) for recommending several of the books I read this month!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Nonfiction / Meh

While the description of the hiking trail and all the people she met along the way was fascinating (and made me want to get my hike on!), for some reason I don’t think this will be a book that’ll stay with me. But props to the author for being a wilderness bad ass nonetheless!

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Fiction / Recommended

Writing a book from death’s perspective is already a challenge, and the author did a fantastic job of it. The details of World War II were an education and the main character quite lovable (and pitiable).

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts

Fiction / Recommended

There’s a lot of debate about how much of this “novel” is based in the author’s actual experiences, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s a masterpiece of philosophy, wanderlust-inducing descriptions of India and one that’s really left me thinking about morality and how we define it.

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

Fiction / Recommended

This novel, while also about India, was so totally different from Shantaram in every way and I almost gave it a “meh”, probably because every book would be overshadowed by such an epic tale. But The White Tiger was pretty funny and not so long, so it’s worth the time to read, for the laughs at least.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

I have really mixed feelings about this book; on one hand, I couldn’t put it down but on the other, I find the premises a bit childish and impossible to really believe, the same way I believed in The Wheel of Time and other fantasy novels. But, still, I couldn’t stop reading, so that must say something, right?

 

As for next month, I’ve got time on my hands and books on my Kindle, including a collection of Maya Angelou’s works that I’d like to get into, in memory of her fantastic, inspirational life. I’m looking forward to it!

Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? And as always, send your recommendations my way too!

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My Top 5 Wanderlist

Everyone dreams, some of us of fancy cars and others of simply a day off. I dreamed of pizza last night, but that’s not the kind of dream I’m talking about. I mean the dreams of the heart, the mental bucket list. My fantasies are actually filled with solitary retreats and books or alternatively, spectacular jaunts abroad in fascinating locations. That probably comes as no surprise to readers, considering my recent Reading Roundup Series and the topic of this blog.

So, while thinking about all the places I’d like to visit, I decided to put them together in a definitive list. Why not? I found it too hard to rank them, though, so I’ve put them in alphabetical order. Enjoy this little trip across the world, though only in thought this time. One day.

Note: I’ve not included any photographs, since I didn’t want to steal and I don’t have of my own. I’d recommend doing a Google image search, if you’re curious about what these countries look like.

 

Egypt

This first one needs a provision: I want to visit Egypt, but as a man. I’m really put off by the sheer number of stories of sexual harassment coming out of such a gorgeous country. So if I could be a man for a month or so, I’d love to spend that month traveling around Egypt and seeing all the beautiful, super super old sights. The Pyramids, the Red Sea, desert landscapes and access to an ocean; the sheer variety sends my head reeling. And the food, oh the food! Legumes and vegetables? Right up my alley. An image search of “Egyptian Food” sets my saliva production into overdrive. As much as I’d love to do all of these things, I’m fairly sure that dealing with sexual harassment for the entirety of my trip would kind of ruin it. So I’d like to be a man, or I’ll just have to wait 10 years for the social climate to improve. Shame.

 

Iran

These days, the only things we see in the news about Iran are things like “nuclear weapons!”, “negotiations”, and “WWIII?” But the Iranian government is a far cry from representative of the people, fortunately (and unfortunately). I took a semester of Farsi, the language in Iran, and it sparked my interest in the country. My teacher was a strong, fierce woman with a palatable love for her culture and people; it must have rubbed off on me. I want to see the landscape, the rock sculptures and old ruins, but I more than anything want to try the food. Once again, that image search just blows my taste buds away. Warning, don’t look if you’ve not eaten lunch/dinner/breakfast yet, you’re only asking for it.

 

Norway

I’m not sure why, but I’m really fascinated with extreme northern climates, particularly the Arctic circle, these days. Norway seems like such a beautiful country, with Oslo down “south” and then extreme, gorgeous landscapes farther north. I may or may not have spent at least an hour or two recently pulling that little figure on Google Maps around and looking at the street views all over northern Norway. I’m also fascinated by the concept of 24 hour nights in the winter and the opposite, constant sunlight in the summer. Though in reality, I’m pretty horrible at enduring cold weather, so I fantasize about testing myself and getting through an Arctic Circle winter. Maybe I need to stop reading books about Siberia…

 

Tunisia

There are a lot of random reasons why I’d love to spend some time in Tunisia. First is the landscape; it straddles desert regions and the Mediterranean Sea, which means extreme land transitions. Rad. It’s also in Northern Africa, which means a fascinating coming together of Middle Eastern and African influences. That’s a culture I’d be ecstatic to learn more about. Then, the official language, Arabic, is one I’d like to tackle one day. And the cherry on top, the food looks pretty lip-smacking. If I had to rank these five places, I’d be tempted to put Tunisia right at the top of that list.

 

Vanuatu

I had never heard of Vanuatu until this week, when I was reading about seven volcanic eruptions that happened at the same time. It’s a tiny island, east of Australia, formed by several volcanoes, some that are still active. One of my life-list items is to see lava, so I was immediately interested in this tiny country. It also has a lot of cool indigenous cultures, which are known to be friendly and picture-happy, and it’s an island. Beaches! And one more big plus, one of the official languages is English, which means travel there is infinitely easier. Lastly, a quick Google search of the food there reveals some dishes that look straight up crazy; I’m in. Send me!

I could go on for several pages with places I want to visit, but these five are absolutely at the tippy top of my wanderlist. And now that I’ve written myself into a hunger and wanderlust frenzy, I’m going to try and deal with the half of that problem I can remedy at the moment: feeding myself. If only it was delicious Persian food!

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Have you been to any of these countries? What places are on your wanderlist? Did you also dream about pizza last night?

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Reading Roundup: The Wheel of Time Series Marathon

At the end of March 2013, I got my hands on fifteen e-books. These weren’t just any e-books, but a series of e-books. Not just any series, but a series that I’ve been reading on and off again for years, my childhood companion, characters and adventures that I grew up with. The Wheel of Time Series.

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Eight out of fifteen books total.

A little history: Robert Jordan published the first book of the series in 1990, and planned to make it six books long. That plan went out the window at some point, and he worked his life away, for another 17 years, to finish what would be a twelve book series. In a too-dramatic-to-believe fashion, he died with the last book unfinished. It was a disaster. But, since his sickness was slow and predictable, he readied notes and plans for the last book so that it could be completed by someone else after his death. His wife chose Brandon Sanderson to complete book twelve, who looked at Robert’s notes and (presumably) snorted loudly at the thought of all that storyline fitting into one book. So the series became fourteen books long, as book number twelve was split into three.

(If you’re wonder why I said fifteen books earlier, it’s because there is also a prequel that’s kind of part of the series but technically not.)

Book twelve and thirteen were published while I was still in University, so I was able to read them. I’ve been dying to finish the series ever since. But it took until 2013 for Sanderson to finish the final book, the epic ending. Feeling like I needed to do the series justice and really immerse myself into the story, to make the last book as meaningful and emotional as possible, I decided to do a complete re-read. All fifteen books, including the prequel.

So at the end of March 2013, it was time. Wheel of Time time. March 22nd, 2013: It began.

Update from March 25th, 2013 (read the original Tumblr post here):

“Recently, I’ve been a little antisocial…

Not just with the internet, but with everyone. Unanswered text messages sit on my phone. My friends have been asking when I’m free to Skype, when I’m free for dinner, what my plans are for the weekend. My initiative has been weak, my follow-ups non-existent. My heart isn’t in it.”

“Is there an end in sight? Yes… in thirteen books. So, let’s be honest, I’m a lost cause. My tiny apartment in the countryside has effectively become my cabin in the woods. Real life is so dull without epic good versus evil battles and crazy superhuman abilities that happen to these everyday characters. My brain wants to live in my books, not in reality.

To those who are trying to get in contact with me and failing… I apologize. But my head (and my heart) seem to be stuck in books, until further notice. Real life, I’ll see you later.”

Update from April 5th, 2013 (original Tumblr post here):

“Although this blog is about my life abroad, my current life is kind of swallowed up by the books I’ve been reading during nearly every hour I can spare. I wrote about my sudden obsessive onset, but I thought I’d let you know just how far I’ve gotten through the series so far. You can estimate for yourself how much more time I’ll need to finish, and get back to my normal, see-my-friends-and-the-daylight-occasionally life.” (Sally’s note in hindsight: HAH! Like I have friends to see.)

0. New Spring (prequel)
1. The Eye of the World
2. The Great Hunt
3. The Dragon Reborn
4. The Shadow Rising
5. The Fires of Heaven
6. Lord of Chaos
7. A Crown of Swords
8. The Path of Daggers
9. Winter’s Heart
10. Crossroads of Twilight
11. Knife of Dreams
12. The Gathering Storm
13. Towers of Midnight
14. A Memory of Light

The entire series has a total of 11,916 pages (thanks Wikipedia!) and over 4 million words. Epic, indeed. Since I started reading, I’ve gotten through five books and a little more than half of the sixth. Clearly, you can see why my social life has been suffering. Based on page count, I’m about 1/3 through the entire series.

And I’m still going strong. Let’s just say that the last book is going to be a serious affair for me. If anyone bothers me while I’m reading book #15… it won’t be a pretty sight.”

Completed on May 5th, 2013:

Finally, I finished. You read those dates correctly; in 44 days, I read 11,916 words. That’s 271 words per day, or one book every three days, on average. That, my friends, is definitely a sub-definition of insanity. Or maybe your average day at law school. Either way, I’ll need a little rest before I undertake something like this again.

The last book was the newest, and the only book I hadn’t read previously. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and then exceeded them and then kicked them on the floor and danced away. That’s how good the conclusion was. The only thing I’m sad about is that my favorite character didn’t make it to the end, and died (obviously in an incredible act of heroism). I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles, though.

Time to remind all my friends that I am, indeed, still alive!

Update from October 2013:

Since finishing these books, I’ve since shared the love with other expats in my area. It’s started an infection. At least two of my friends are so hooked, they’re getting to the very end of the series in a relatively short amount of time, like me. Another two friends have at least begun the series and find it lovely. I can only imagine the books will continue to circulate and the WOT love will become an epidemic. Even if you don’t typically like fantasy books, you should give Book One, The Eye of the World, a try, because these books are phenomenal! The details, the story, the plot twists, the immaculately evolved character development: you won’t be disappointed, except by the fact that you can’t stop time and get lost in these books forever and ever. Happy reading!

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